Environmentally friendly ways of working in the office and from your own home - The new normal goes green

The pandemic has decided the rhythm of our lives for almost two years now. Like a catalyst, it set changes in motion and fuelled those that were already underway. Working from home – something that the pandemic forced upon many – has changed our working world: while it was initially only intended as a stopgap solution, we‘ve now arrived at the so-called “new normal”: hybrid work, i.e. sometimes in the office, sometimes at home. For this to work smoothly, a concept that combines both workplaces is needed – and preferably one that’s sustainable.

Both working in the office and from home have their advantages and disadvantages. After almost two years of the pandemic, all those involved in hybrid work – employers and employees alike – are well aware of this. There is a huge effort underway to make both places of work functional and attractive. Sustainability has to be the benchmark in the design, because we need workplaces that are “fit for the future”.

Working sustainably in the office – what exactly does that mean?

The concept of sustainability means always keeping in mind

  • the consumption of resources and
  • the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their consumption, first and foremost: CO2. 

And the fewer resources consumed and the less CO2 emitted in the process, the more sustainable your consumption is.

Energy consumption in the office

The sources of energy that are directly consumed in the office and when working from home are electricity and heat. All home and office technology runs on electricity, including the systems for lighting, ventilation, air humidification, the securing of windows and doors and for sun protection, as well as computers, printers, scanners, shredders, telephones, large and small kitchen appliances. In addition, there are also systems for heating and/or cooling rooms and for heating water.

How much power and heat is consumed in the office depends on two factors:
1.    the longevity and efficiency of the technology and
2.    the usage behaviour of consumers. 
But you can influence both factors: if you use long-lasting, energy-saving technology in the office in an energy-saving way, you can slash your electricity consumption by more than 70% and lower your electricity bills.1 

How to save electricity at the workplace:

  • Instead of a lot of individual devices, have one multifunctional network device for printing, scanning and photocopying.
  • Switch systems and devices off completely or to standby mode when not in use (for longer periods).
  • Turn down the monitor brightness.
  • Use motion sensors for lighting installations in seldom-visited rooms such as office kitchens, equipment rooms, material stores, WCs or corridors.
  • Use water-saving fittings in the office kitchen and in the WC. 
  • Use the eco wash setting on the dishwasher in the office kitchen. 

How to save heat in the office:

  • A temperature between 21° C and 22° C is recommended when carrying out light office work. If your work is a bit more active than that, a temperature of between 19° C and 20° C is best. The rule is that every degree Celsius more increases your heating costs by six per cent.
  • Turn down the heating when you are not in the office for a longer period of time (lunch break, an appointment away from the office, when you finish work for the day).
  • Close the office doors to keep the heat in. 
  • Open the windows for a short period of time several times a day rather than leaving the windows open all the time.

You should also opt for sustainable sources of electricity and heat. Use renewable green electricity instead of conventional electricity generated by fossil fuels or nuclear energy; use renewable heat instead of heat generated from fossil fuels.

Material consumption in the office

Besides consuming energy, offices also consume office supplies. These include paper and stationery (binders, files, file holders, desk pads, notepads, and envelopes), pens, printer inks and more.

The clear preference here is for durable, recycled and recyclable materials, such as unbleached recycled paper and recycled plastic. Printer cartridges can be refilled. Mineral oil free printing ink is often available. The consumption behaviour of people who work in offices has a significant impact on the consumption of office supplies.

How to save paper:

  • Only write and print on paper if digital documents are not an alternative (paperless office).
  • Use both sides of the sheet of paper if possible.
  • Avoid glossy colour printing if black and white printing is sufficient.

A few more tips for a green office

  • Green plants help to improve the air indoors and create a feel-good atmosphere in the office. 
  • If possible, drink tap water in the office and save money on mineral water and the like.
  • Use recycled toilet paper
  • When it comes to office catering, avoid products that come in environmentally unfriendly packaging. Bring food and drinks in sustainable containers, i. e. reusable bottles and lunch boxes made of metal, wood, glass or recycled plastic.

About the Author

The freelance journalist on organic issues and #motherof4 Doreen Brumme blogs on doreenbrumme.de about how to enjoy a green lifestyle at work, in school and at home.

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